Northwest Vietnam

The north is a mountainous region punctuated by limestone peaks and luscious valleys of terraced paddy fields, tea plantations, stilt houses and water hyacinth-quilted rivers. Large cones and towers, some with vertical walls and overhangs, rise dramatically from the flat alluvial plains. This landscape, dotted with bamboo thickets, is one of the most evocative in Vietnam; its hazy images seem to linger deep in the collective Vietnamese psyche and perhaps symbolize a sort of primaeval Garden of Eden.

Sapa, in the far northwest, is a former French hill station, home of the Hmong and set in a stunning valley, carpeted with Alpinese flowers. It is a popular centre for trekking. Scattered around are market towns and villages populated by Vietnam's ethnic minorities such as the Black Hmong, Red Dao, Flower Hmong, Phu La, Dao Tuyen, La Chi and Tay - the latter being Vietnam's largest ethnic minority.

Nor is the region without wider significance; the course of world history was altered at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 when the Vietnamese defeated the French. In 2004 a vast bronze statue commemorating the victory was erected; it towers over the town. Closer to Hanoi is Hoa Binh where villages of the Muong and Dao can be seen and the beautiful Mai Chau Valley, home to the Black and White Thai whose attractive houses nestle amid the verdant paddies of the hills.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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